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New Book Unmasks Hidden History of How U.S. Corporations Gained Legal Personhood and Civil Rights

March 17, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

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Corporations have fought a long battle to win rights once granted only to individuals.

American corporate power has never been stronger. It’s not just the Trump administration’s crusade to gut government regulation; the federal courts have increasingly been granting corporations liberty rights once held only by individuals. In his new book, We The Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights, UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler traces the history of how corporate America has successfully waged a civil rights movement on its own behalf since the country’s earliest decades. AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld spoke to Winkler. 

Steven Rosenfeld: Tell us why you are so interested in informing people about how corporations got their legal rights.

Adam Winkler: In recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have freedom of speech, in Citizens United, and religious liberty, in the Hobby Lobby case. I sought to find out: How did corporations win our most fundamental rights? In school, we learn about civil rights, and women’s rights, even state’s rights, but never corporate rights. I was shocked to discover when I looked into it that, like women and minorities, corporations have fought since America’s earliest days to win equal rights under the Constitution. And they use those rights to fight off business regulations designed to protect the public.

SR: Yes, we have certainly seen that today. But did it start that way? Or did it turn into that?

AW: Corporations have always used constitutional rights to strike down regulation. Corporations seek rights to fight back against business regulation. Even when laws are passed to protect consumers and investors and the public at large, rights can be used in court to challenge those laws. It’s not just a new thing. The first Supreme Court case on …read more


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